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Cuban Journalists Call for New Approach

Locals note gradual move away from highly politicised dissent towards more professional standards.
By IWPR
  • Frank Correra, a Cuban writer and journalist. (Photo: IWPR)
    Frank Correra, a Cuban writer and journalist. (Photo: IWPR)

Journalists in Cuba, the only country in Latin America where critical media is banned, face multiple challenges.

Those working for independent media face surveillance, harassment and routine detention, while access to the internet and public sources of information remain strictly limited.

“The socialist system’s authoritarianism and totalitarianism…imposes a series of barriers on journalists ranging from freedom of expression and information, through to censorship and intimidation of sources, to persecution, harassment and threats to imprison journalists,” said Frank Correa, who writes for the Cubanet News website.

Nonetheless, media professionals are increasingly calling for a new approach to their work; a move away from constant political dissent towards important public interest stories. 

J R Camejo
"Journalist face the constant boycott of the regime, trying to discredit our work, and our person with society, creating an effective situations of fear that prevents citizens feel free to talk with freelance journalists."
Jorge Rodríguez Camejo

“I could sum up my challenges in one sentence:  We have to start being more professional, which means leaving the complaining and moaning behind and delving deeper into subjects that until now have remained anecdotal,” said Diario de Cuba reporter María Matienzo.

“I think that we have to gain a sense of belonging within the profession,” Matienzo continued. “We have to achieve transparency, to not repeat the patterns of bad journalism that we have seen for years. We must achieve a commitment to the truth, or at least what we believe to be the truth.”

Cuban journalists acknowledge that they face difficulties maintaining international standards in their own work. Independent journalists are de facto considered political dissidents, and it is hard to prevent activism blurring into media work.

Yoel Espinosa is a journalist from the central Santa Clara province, some 300 kilometres from the capital. He agreed that one of the major challenges independent journalists like him faced was maintaining international standards, especially when under constant scrutiny.

M Matienzo
"I think we have to gain a sense of belonging to the profession. We have to win in transparency, not to repeat the patterns of bad journalism we have seen done for years. We must win in commitment to the truth. Or at least, what we believe may be the truth."
María Matienzo

“It’s impossible to ignore the fact that once we identify ourselves as independent journalists, we are labelled as counterrevolutionaries and therefore directly or indirectly monitored by the government apparatus,” Espinosa said.

He explained that he had begun his career as an activist in a political organisation, “like almost all Cubans doing journalism now”.

Historically, he explained, “We’d report anything without any structure, without following the fundamentals of journalism.”

Espinosa said that Cuban journalism was gradually moving away from these highly politicised origins towards superior standards of professionalism.

 “At present one of our major challenges is to work at the level prescribed by international journalism standards. Deeper journalism, quality journalism. This requires training in all areas.”

R Gordo
"You are not doing independent journalism for being in the opposition, or being opposed to the government. That does not define it. What defines it, is to defend the truth and objectivity, regardless of both, opposition and government."
Rafael Gordo

“It is essential that we journalists get in line with what global journalism demands, to report as though we are international journalists.”

Developing journalistic skills is difficult in an environment where publically available data is extremely limited and the independent media has few financial resources.

Internet access in Cuba is only available at hotels and navigation points controlled by the government. The majority of independent news sites based outside the country are blocked, so access to independent news is often through weekly “magazines” distributed on USB sticks.

Diario de Cuba contributor Jorge Rodríguez Camejo said that this limited access to information was the greatest hurdle he personally faced in his work.

“We lack software and training to create safe databases to complement our work. And there is limited methodology to generate more efficient investigative journalism, and also for creating work teams,” Camejo said.

Y E Medrano
"The biggest challenge is to achieve a legible journalistic technique based on international standards of journalism. I think that is the main immediate challenge. We cannot put aside that once we identify ourselves as independent journalists we are cataloged as counterrevolutionaries, for that reason we are directly or indirectly under check of the government apparatus."
Yoel Espinosa Medrano

Rafael Gordo, a freelance journalist who works for media such as the Diario de Cuba website, agreed that local media needed to work on more in-depth stories.

“The independent press, I’d say all the press, should stop paying attention to holes in the road and spend time on deeper issues. A hole in the road could represent a deeper issue: the problem with the road system in Cuba, which is the result of poor management of the state budget. To me, just limiting it to the hole in the road seems like a lack of effort. The metaphor proposes a deeper issue: investigation.”

That approach went hand-in-hand with a non-partisan style.

“You don’t do independent journalism because you’re the opposition, to oppose the government. That does not define it,” Gordo said. “It is defined by defending the truth and objectivity, at a distance from both the opposition and the government.”

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